Maron’s world tour: Loans to Africa, teams in Iceland and Sweden, then Atlanta

Atlanta Beat goalkeeper Brett Maron didn’t come from the typical U.S. youth team-via-North Carolina background. She went to Fairfield, which she says was a better fit for her than many of the traditional powerhouses and has an up-and-coming soccer team.

Her unusual route to the WPS continued after college, when she spent time with Iceland’s Afturelding FC and Sweden’s Kristianstads DFF.

She also was part of a group that left an academic legacy at Fairfield, starting a microlending program to help poor women start small businesses.

Given all that, it’s about time someone talked with her about her academic and athletic pursuits. And, of course, Icelandic handball. Here’s a slightly abridged transcript of our conversation Wednesday.

You did an interesting project at Fairfield involving lending. In your own words, what was it?

It was part of a senior project for my women’s studies minor. We started our own foundation, like a nongovernmental organization, to lend money to women in global south countries to start small businesses that would become sustainable. My class founded it and we passed it on to the next class, and it’s still going on today.

Is this the sort of thing where the people who are running the project now are getting money back from prior lendees and using that to keep it going.

Every year, there’s people involved in fund-raising to contribute more and more money. But the way it works is that the people that we lend money to will get about $50. Once they can make enough money to pay that back, it goes back into the pot. So it’s always growing.

Of all the things you were looking at for a senior project, what drew you to this one?

In the women’s studies class, we were studying feminism and globalization. It was a special group of people that were involved in that class. We all wanted to do something that would give back to people that were capable but less fortunate. We wanted to give people a chance that had the motivation and had the drive.

Were there any obstacles that you ran into? Any governmental obstacles or anything else?

I feel like we all had our mind set from the very beginning that this project was a priority. Everybody was so involved in the process. We were going to get it done no matter what.

What are some countries you recall where the money went?

I wasn’t involved in the final decision-making. I left in March of my senior year to go play abroad in Iceland. But I know a majority of the countries that we sent money to were in Africa.

I finished my classes early my senior year, and I left for Iceland at the end of March 2008.

Would you describe Iceland as semi-pro or amateur? What’s the level on the field, and what the level of professionalism like?

I would compare it to the semi-pro league here in the U.S.

The W-League?

Yes, it’s comparable to that. From there, I moved on to Sweden, so I took another step in the playing level. Sweden is considered to be a professional league. Then I came to WPS to play in the best women’s professional league in the world.

Did you feel like you had to build your resume a little bit rather than try to go straight from college to the WPS?

It was something I had to do. Fairfield University isn’t considered to be a top 25 program, so I needed to prove myself in better soccer arenas.

How did you get hooked up with the team in Iceland?

Mark Krikorian, the Florida State coach. My college coach had a contact with Mark Krikorian. He had seen me play before and was familiar with my playing level. He put me in contact with the team in Iceland.

How was Iceland, culturally?

I would go so far as to say it’s like a mini-United States. Everybody speaks English. They learn English from a very early age. Pretty much everything that we have accessible to us in the U.S., they have. When I lived in Iceland, I had a KFC a minute away from where we lived. A lot different than when I went to Sweden. Culturally, Iceland is much more similar to the U.S.

(During the 2008 Olympics), they kept telling me no one in Iceland went to work today because they were hungover from watching the handball games from the night before. Did you get the sense people were really excited about it?

Every time you walked into an establishment or restaurant, even going into my club where we played, there was always a mass of people around the TV.

I definitely became a handball fan. From that experience, I started going to handball games when I was in Sweden. It’s a very interesting game to watch.

Were you at one of those clubs that has a women’s soccer team, men’s soccer team, handball team and so on?

Exactly.

How would you describe playing in Sweden?

For me, it was a little bit different. I’m a very competitive person. It’s ingrained in our culture as Americans that competition is a good thing, and we thrive off of it. I didn’t have that same sense when I was in Sweden.

Were people not upset over losses?

It was more the training atmosphere for me. I’ve been told it’s not the same way at every team in Sweden. For me — I’m used to holding my teammates accountable and expecting the best from them every day. I don’t go into tackles any differently than I would in a game. That’s just how I’m used to. It’s kind of a different mentality.

You wound up coming back to WPS, not through the draft but as a free agent. How did you get hooked up with the Beat?

I played for Gareth (O’Sullivan, the Beat’s head coach) when I was in Iceland. He knew me from there. He knew my game very well. He came and saw me play in Sweden as well and saw me matched up with even better competition. He felt after seeing me that I would be well-suited for his team. That’s how it all worked out.

Having played in Iceland and Sweden, and not having played ACC soccer or for UCLA or Stanford, do you feel almost closer to the foreigners in the league than to the Americans?

I definitely have a special bond with the foreigners because I know what it’s like to be a foreigner. It’s harder for people who haven’t been playing abroad to understand what they’re going through. It’s a completely different circumstance to adjust to. Everybody’s expected to come in here, play well, be professional and always be on top of their game. But the foreigners also have to deal with being completely out of their comfort zone.

Your team has a ton of offensive talent. In training sessions, is just like you’re swatting away gnats, with shots from all angles and people buzzing around you?

I can’t even put it into words appropriately. It’s hard to articulate how intense it is and the level of focus you have to have every day. It’s a situation where you don’t think – your body takes over. You have to be an athlete and do what you’ve trained your body to do your entire life. That’s the only way you can be successful.

In your first game at home, you seemed unlucky not to come away with at least a point. Are people looking at it that way and are fairly confident?

I firmly believe that everyone’s head is up right now. We have the same belief we had from Day 1. We know if we keep playing the way we’re playing, we’re going to get results. We have a very high standard. None of that’s going to change. We’re going to keep working toward our ultimate goal, day-in, day-out.

You’ve played in a couple of stadiums that were soccer-specific stadiums elsewhere. How does this feel?

I’ve played in some pretty nice stadiums, and this is hands-down the best stadium I’ve ever played in. Everything from it being soccer-specific to the atmosphere on game days. The pitch is perfect. If you can’t play on this field, you can’t play on any field in the entire world.

It’s hard for me to express the emotions that went through my body on game day. It was electric. It’s the most special experience I’ve ever had, playing in that stadium.

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